Recruits have mixed emotions about distance.
When the Ivy League schools open their doors to the incoming freshman class, Carina De La Paz, Christian Vazquez, Kevin Montiel and Barbara Rassi will be among the increasing number of Cuban-American students walking through them.
But the Ivy League was once uncharted territory for Cuban-Americans and other Hispanics, who often drop out before completing high school.
In 2007, the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston reported that of the nearly 6.2 million people dropping out of high school, 27.5 percent were Hispanic.
That has begun to change as the nation’s top universities continue to look for diverse, high-achieving students through their recruitment processes.
De La Paz, 18, who will attend Princeton University, has experienced this change personally. The Hialeah native graduated with honors from the School for Advanced Studies in Miami-Dade County as a National Hispanic Scholar. At Princeton, De La Paz will study international relations and pursue a career in diplomacy.
She was approached by various universities eager to increase the diversity of their schools.
“Some offered more money if I would go to their schools or offered to extend their registration deadlines,” De La Paz said, noting that some of her peers believe her admission was based only on affirmative action.
“I’ve had people who go, ‘Oh, well, you only got in because you’re Hispanic,’ ” she said. “People assume that the only reason I got in was for diversity.”
De La Paz said she is bothered that Hispanics were judged as a group rather than individuals with their own achievements.
Montiel, 18, will attend Columbia University, which “rejoices in the fact that it has diversity.” He graduated second in his class at Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High and will double major in neuroscience and behavior and statistics.
When he applied to Columbia, Montiel doubted he would be accepted into such a prestigious school.
“I was thinking ‘A kid from Hialeah ain’t getting into Columbia,’ ” he said.
But like other Ivy League schools, Columbia competes for diverse students like Montiel. “There’s always going be an interest in minority students,” he said.
While they remain eager to accept students from all backgrounds, Ivy League universities insist they have no set goals for accepting minority students.
“We have no formal set of quotas,” said Jennifer Cleveland, the multicultural admissions coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania, another Ivy League school.
Major recruiting efforts at Yale University have steadily increased the school’s enrollment of students of color, Dean of Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel said in an e-mail.
Brenzel said Yale uses “targeted mailings, regional information sessions, school visits, and special programs run in conjunction with local, community-based organizations or national college access-related organizations such as Questbridge and College Summit.”
Yale has tapped into Miami’s Hispanic student market by accepting Vazquez, 18, another graduate of Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High.
Vazquez, who graduated third in his class, experienced Yale’s convincing methods of recruitment after an information session at the Miami Museum of Science & Planetarium.
“It got me to look more into the college,” Vazquez said.
Hialeah High School, which is 90 percent Hispanic, has benefited from these methods.
Schools such as Johns Hopkins University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology accepted 17 Hialeah High seniors last June.
Many colleges have started similar endeavors to present Hispanic and Latino students with admissions and housing information while strongly encouraging them to apply.
For Penn, these plans include a multicultural diversity day, when students of different ethnicities gather at the university for an on-campus open house.
David McCain, a Brown University alumnus who interviewed De La Paz for possible admission, said her recruitment was an example of Brown’s attempts to attract the best and brightest students, regardless of race or need.
“I was a ‘financial aid farmer,’ ” McCain said. “Some think that people who go to Brown are well-to-do people with old money, and that’s not true.”
Many Ivy League colleges now offer full tuition to families with parents whose combined incomes are less than $60,000.
While most families focus on the financial issue when choosing the right college, Cuban-American parents use location as a deciding factor.
Cuban families are known to be tight-knit; colleges have had to deal with the cultural, gravitational pull of South Florida and Cuba.
Rassi, 18, the Hialeah-Miami Lakes class valedictorian, attributes much of her academic success to her parents, who taught her hard work and Christian values, although at times they could be overprotective. She will be studying government at Harvard University.
“My single, biggest obstacle was getting my family to accept the fact that I was going away for college,” Rassi said.
During a visit to campus, she met Cuban-Americans with the problem of having to choose between a state school and Harvard because their families were uncomfortable with the distance.
Nonetheless, Rassi believes that the “Cuban-American population among the Ivy League is growing.”
Vazquez, on the other hand, toured Yale’s multicultural house and noticed the school had a small number of Cuban-American students.
Both of Montiel’s parents are hesitant about letting their son study far from home.
“(My parents ask) ‘Why are you going so far?’” Montiel said. “It’s one thing they can’t get across their mind. My parents don’t like it, but they accept it.”
He credits some of his success to his father, who was unable to finish his education in Cuba because he was arrested for distributing propaganda that opposed Fidel Castro.
Soon after, he was threatened with death and later exiled from the island while still in high school.
Thirty years later, he was able to get an education in Florida. Montiel feels that his father’s resentment toward Cuba was the reason for his focus on his son’s education.
De La Paz’s parents were also focused on her academics.
“My parents saw education as very important,” De La Paz said.
“There was definitely a sense of education being valuable. My family has done everything to make it easier for me. (They say) if you need something, we’re going to sacrifice ourselves.”
Their sacrifice is as evident as the orgullo (pride in Spanish) they have for their college-bound daughter.
De La Paz recalls her father’s reaction when she received her acceptance letter online:
“I ran downstairs and told my dad and he looked up and said, ‘Thank you, God!’”